10/19/2003 Italy in Fall 2003 Day 12 - Pesaro / Ferrara
Jim and Diana write:
Another very unpleasant morning…the sea is quite rough and there is no sign of blue sky. We decide to skip our planned walk for the morning around Pesaro and instead, we will stop in Faenza (on the way to Ferrara) to see the renowned Museum of Ceramics.

We are sorry that the weather has been so bad while we are in Pesaro; we didn’t get a chance to spend time on the water and strolling around town, but we really liked the Hotel Vittoria—it is a touch of luxury at a not unreasonable price (at least outside of the high season).

Faenza has been the center of Italian (and European) majolica production for centuries (the French word “faience” comes from the name of the town) and the museum is famous for its collection of Italian ceramics from the 1400s to the 1700s as well more ancient and more modern production.

For an attraction as big as this one for a town the size of Faenza, the signage is not very clear. We find a parking space a few blocks away and make our way (with the help of very clear directions from a dog-walking Faenzan) to the museum. I will leave more specific reporting to Diana; I will just say that there were long corridors of cases full of pottery on two floors. The first floor is historical—Greek, Roman, pre-Columbian, Islamic—and the second floor highlights the local Faenza production and ceramics from all over Italy.

The local production is organized by time period and the use of the ceramics—religious, commercial, home. In any case, ceramics not being my thing, my eyes glaze over fairly quickly. But the museum is well organized with quite a bit of signage in English and there are quite a few other visitors on this Sunday morning. (I’ll only say that I do love ceramics, and this was an extensive collection, with gorgeous examples of every sort imaginable. Worth a visit. D.)

After our visit, we take a few minutes to check out the main square, where the Sunday market is just closing down. Diana goes into one of the open ceramics shops—the town is still a major producer of ceramics, both by artisans and in factories—but she doesn’t see anything she likes well enough to buy.

We stop for a quick sandwich at an Autogrill on our way to Ferrara. I think I am finally tiring of the sandwich offerings at these autostrada rest stops. Although head and shoulders above similar establishments on US highways, the food has lost some of its luster for me over the years.

At 3 pm, we are entering Ferrara. As we approach the center, I stop at a hotel to get directions; we haven’t seen any directional signs to our hotel. The desk clerk shows me where our hotel is, stops to scratch his head, and tells me that I can’t drive there because it is in a pedestrian zone. In fact, it is right off the main piazza in town, steps from the Castello Estense and the Duomo, and the area is usually closed to automobile traffic….but since, we are staying at a hotel there, we are allowed to enter the zone. We make the turn into the piazza to the displeasure of cars waiting behind us who want to go straight, dodge strolling pedestrians and bicyclists and park in front of our hotel.

The Locanda Borgonuovo is a small (4 rooms and two apartments) bed and breakfast affair, which has gotten rave notices in various guidebooks. We usually stay in more traditional hotels, but it sounded too good to pass up. We are greeted warmly by the father and son of the family who run it….they show us where to park (on the street right in front of the door) and help us with our luggage to our room, one flight up.

Compared to our previous hotels on this trip, the room is tiny. It is decorated nicely with antiques but there is very little floor space for us to keep our bags. There is a small lounge on the first floor for guests to use and a pretty terrace where they serve breakfast in warm weather; in the cooler months, breakfast is served upstairs in the owners’ living room. But the location is great and the owners are gracious and helpful.

After unpacking and getting organized, we set out to see the town. We had been here on a day trip eight years ago and the main attraction, the Castello Estense, had been closed, so we go there first. Ferrara has a somewhat austere appearance—there are very few trees and flowers are not as abundant as in other Italian cities—but it has wonderful buildings and attractive and extensive shopping streets in the medieval town. There is a lively street life on this Sunday afternoon—shops are open and people are in the cafes and in the streets.

The Castello Estense (built by the ruling family, the d’Este) is a monumental castle which dominates the center of town with a moat still filled with water. Part of the building houses the provincial government, but most of it is open as a museum. There are the requisite dungeons and kitchens on the ground floor, with some exhibits showing how the city of Ferrara has developed over the years. The upper floors have some lovely old frescoes from the 14th and 15th centuries, mostly commissioned by the Este family to glorify their accomplishments. But there are two rooms with playful scenes of angels taking part in a number of sports and athletic events….and there are several rooms decorated with the traditional “grotesque” designs common in ancient Rome.

I climb to the top of the Tower of Lions for a view of the city; Diana demurs at the 122 steps to the top. From above, you can see how flat Ferrara is, you can see the walls that are still mostly intact and you can see the canals that were developed to compensate for the loss of access to river traffic and commerce when the Po River changed its course, five hundred years ago.

After the castle, we stop at a cafe on the main piazza for coffee and ice cream; we write some postcards and people watch. The streets are dominated by bicyclists (of all ages and gender) pedestrians; cars are really few and far between on most of the streets in the historic center. I have read that Ferrara has the second highest percentage of bicycle riders per capita of any city in the world—second only to Copenhagen. On the way back to the hotel, Diana buys some ceramic dishes from a vendor in the main piazza.

As it gets dark, we head back to the hotel for a while—to rest, write and read. We had gotten some restaurant recommendations from the son of the owners (he and his mother speak very good English) and decide to go to one of them—a traditional trattoria called Il Cucco. We walk down one of the main shopping streets, Via Mazzini; the shops are now just closing. On the way to the restaurant, we pass a building with two plaques dedicated to the ninety-six Ferrarese Jews who were sent to concentration camps in 1944.

We later realize that the building is the synagogue—there is no other marking that calls attention to the building, other than a small nameplate above the bell. Ferrara had a significant Jewish population dating back to the 1500s when the Estense princes invited Jews to settle there after the Inquisition in Spain got started. We plan to visit the synagogue and new Jewish museum tomorrow. Ferrara is also the setting for the novel written by the local novelist Carlo Bassani—The Garden of Finzi-Contini—and for the movie made by Vittorio de Sica.

We find the restaurant on a back street and we have a very nice dinner. The staff is pleasant and Stan Getz is playing softly in the background. We share a plate of local “salumi” to start; I have a pasta dish called “gramigna”—short curvy pieces of green and yellow pasta—with a sauce of sausage and mushrooms. Diana has the local specialty, cappellacci with pumpkin and meat sauce, and a plate of grilled meats. The meal stretches out and the disappearing Italian waiter syndrome kicks in. The staff are very friendly throughout the meal—when the waiter realizes he has forgotten to bring a glass of wine that we ordered, he apologizes and pours us half a glass each to make up for it. But we are getting tired, so we get up to get the check and pay. We head back to the hotel through back streets…which are deserted and quiet.

We are hoping for better weather in the morning…..we are really “fair weather” tourists.